Tigers’ John Hicks is hitting his stride at the plate

David Krueger
Special to The Detroit News


Seattle — It appears John Hicks found what he was searching for.

Three years after making his major league debut with the Seattle Mariners, Hicks is having the best offensive season of his career with the Tigers. Hicks has hit safely in 13 of 16 games during May and is batting .351 with 11 runs scored, two home runs and nine RBIs in the month. His two-run double in the first inning of Friday’s 5-4 loss to the Mariners gave the Tigers the early lead.

Along with getting steady playing time, Hicks credits some of his success to Seattle Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager, who saw Hicks struggling early in his rookie year.

“He kind of took me under his wing,” Hicks said. “I went up to him one day and I’m like, ‘Man, I’m searching and I don’t know what I’m searching for.’ So, him and I went down and we watched film and watched some of my at-bats and some of his and just kind of talked about what we wanted to feel. I took that to heart and changed a lot of things that offseason.”

Hicks started the year as a backup catcher for the Tigers, but has moved to first base with the hamstring injury suffered by Miguel Cabrera. Getting regular at-bats has proven helpful for the 28-year-old Hicks, who has four home runs this season after hitting six in his first three seasons.

“He’s playing every day and any time you’re playing every day you have a chance to get more at-bats and you get to see more pitches,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said before Friday’s game against Seattle. “... Unfortunately, he’s playing behind (catcher James) McCann and then also behind a big first baseman named Cabrera, so you don’t get many at-bats. But, getting the opportunity, he’s taken advantage of it right now.

“We’ve always thought he could hit. It’s just finding the at-bats.”

Hicks acknowledged how far he’s come since his debut in 2015. A fourth-round pick by the Mariners in 2011, Hicks got a hit in his first at-bat but struggled from the plate after. He said that season was one of the worst, offensively, of his professional career.

“It was just a tough year at the plate,” Hicks said. “I just never felt like I got comfortable. … I got to the point where I was trying different things. That’s something you don’t want to do at the big-league level, when you’re trying to get hits. I’d go up with a certain stance in one at-bat and then my next at-bat I’d have a different one. I was searching and couldn’t find it.”

Gardenhire said Hicks has done a good job of filling in at first base while Cabrera is one the mend, both at the plate and on defense.

Hicks hopes to show he’s worthy of a lineup spot, even after the Tigers’ star first baseman can return.

“Obviously losing Miggy, who’s one of the best hitters of all time, is tough on a lineup,” Hicks said, “and I just tried to step in and be my best version of myself and not really try to be Miggy.”

Martin activated

Outfielder Leonys Martin was activated from the 10-day disabled list prior to Friday night’s game. Martin started in center field for the Tigers. JaCoby Jones, who was originally scheduled to start in center, moved to left field.

Martin went 0-for-4 in his return, reaching base on a fielding error in the fifth inning.

The outfielder was placed on the disabled list retroactive to May 8, with a left hamstring strain. He had been working toward getting back quickly and Gardenhire said he was ready to go as soon as his 10-day DL stint was up.

“He’s been driving us crazy in here,” Gardenhire said. “Came in and said he feels great. There you have it. He wants to play.”

Martin, who was batting .294 this season with five home runs before his injury, confirmed that he was eager to get back on the field.

“It was a really exciting moment to be back with the guys and go out there and battle with the guys,” Martin said. “Being off for 11, 12 days, it’s a long time.”

To make room for Martin on the active roster, left-handed pitcher Ryan Carpenter was optioned to Triple-A Toledo.

Gardenhire reacts to tragedy

Gardenhire became solemn when discussing Friday morning’s shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas.

The Tigers manager discussed the tragedy that saw 10 people killed and another 10 injured at a high school about 40 miles southeast of Houston.

“I just don’t understand it. How do those things happen?” Gardenhire said. “… It’s really tough. It’s tough news. You see too many of it. You’re reading the news every day and all these things happen. You don’t have any answers for it. Just don’t understand why it keeps happening.

“I think that’s something that we all have to try to figure out. Hopefully, our government, our president, figures out a way to change some of this stuff to where our kids are safe when they go to school. I don’t have the answers for it. I just know it was never like that when I grew up, and I sure hope it doesn’t continue to be like that.”

Tigers pitcher Alex Wilson, who is on the disabled list as he recovers from a left plantar fascia strain, tweeted about the shooting at the school, which is his wife Kristin’s alma mater.

“Praying for everyone involved at my wife’s hometown high school in Santa Fe TX,” Wilson tweeted. “This one hits closer to home than ever before #EnoughIsEnough”.

Walking to victory

As can often be the case, walks proved costly for the Tigers in Friday’s loss.

Detroit pitchers walked four Seattle batters — all coming in the Mariners’ five-run seventh inning. Every Seattle player who drew a walk in that inning scored.

“You’re not going to do too well when you walk four people in one inning,” Gardenhire said. “The seventh inning was a tough inning for us. … It becomes a merry-go-round.”

Detroit starter Michael Fulmer looked sharp early and retired 14 of the first 15 batters he faced. Fulmer only allowed three hits in the game, but started the fateful seventh inning with a pair of walks.

“The loss is on me, for sure,” Fulmer said. “You can’t walk two guys to start an inning.”

Reliever Buck Farmer came in and walked two more batters in the inning. Farmer (0-2), was tagged with the loss for the Tigers.

“I think I was just nibbling too much and got a couple no-calls,” Farmer said. “But, I just didn’t put the balls in the strike zone as much as I needed to. I walked two guys and that ended up being the difference.”

David Krueger is a freelance writer.